There is nothing like a good revenge story. From Paul Kersey’s vigilante rampage in in “Death Wish” to Eric Cartman’s diabolical payback in the South Park Episode “Scott Tenorman Must Die,” revenge tales are deeply satisfying.
Here is one from World War II involving the revenge one naval officer took upon Japan for his fallen shipmates.
It started during the earliest days of America’s involvement in World War II. On Dec. 10, 1941, the Sargo-class submarine USS Sealion (SS 195) was hit by Japanese bombs during a strike on the American naval base in Cavite where it sunk pier-side.
Four of her crew — Sterling C. Foster, Melvin D. O’Connell, Ernest E. Ogilvie, and Vallentyne L. Paul — were killed. Eli T. Reich, the submarine’s executive officer, was among those evacuated.
According to retired Navy Vice Admiral Charles Lockwood’s book, “Sink `Em All,” when Reich was due for a command of his own, he asked if Lockwood could get him the new USS Sealion (SS 315), a Balao-class vessel. Lockwood, who was the commander of the Pacific Fleet’s submarines, arranged for that assignment – and Reich was soon out, seeking revenge.
Four of the torpedoes USS Sealion II carried were stamped with the names Foster, O’Connell, Ogilvie, and Paul.
On Nov. 21, 1944, while the Sealion was patrolling in the Formosa Strait, Reich then came across a Japanese surface that included the battleship HIJMS Kongo (in reality, a re-built battle cruiser). Reich moved his submarine into position, then fired a spread of six torpedoes from his bow tubes — including the ones with the names of his fallen shipmates.
He then fired a second spread from his stern tubes.
Accounts differ as to the exact sequence of events after the two spreads of torpedoes were fired.
According to “Leyte,” the tenth book in Samuel Eliot Morison’s 15-volume History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, the first spread Reich fired was intercepted by a Japanese destroyer that blew up and sank as a result, and the second spread scored one hit that eventually sank the Kongo.
At CombinedFleet.com, Anthony Tully relates a different version, with Kongo taking multiple hits from one of the spreads.
Lockwood claims Reich’s first spread scored three hits.
No matter what version, the Kongo eventually blew up and sank. Reich had avenged his shipmates. He would receive three awards of the Navy Cross, among other decorations, for his service, and died in 1999. His command, USS Sealion, would serve in the Navy until 1970, then was sunk as a target in 1978.
A sandy white beach. Swaying palm trees. Cocktails made from coconut juice.
As frigid air and snowstorms whip across most of the U.S., service members may dream of trading their current duty station for an exotic Pacific paradise.
But they might want to think again, according to Bob Cunningham, a former Air Force radar operator whose first duty station was a tiny, oblong blister of land in the South China Sea. He knows it as North Danger Island.
For six months in 1956, Cunningham lived on a remote knob approximately 2,000 feet long and 850 feet wide in the Spratly Islands group located midway between the Philippine Islands and Vietnam. His home was a canvas tent and he manned radio and radar equipment for a secret Air Force project mapping the earth.
The mission was an aerial electronic geodetic survey. Specially equipped aircraft flew grid patterns and triangulated electromagnetic pulses sent between temporary ground stations hundreds of miles apart. The data, computed into highly accurate coordinates, would eventually provide targeting information for intercontinental ballistic missile development.
It was a ‘million dollar experience’ that he wouldn’t give two cents to repeat, Cunningham jokes today.
Not that it wasn’t an adventure, he admits.
Cunningham’s four-man team and all its equipment was helicoptered to the island from the deck of a Landing Ship, Tank (LST), along with the drinking water, fuel and rations the men would need to survive. Resupply occurred every 4-6 weeks by helicopter, supplemented by occasional parachute drops. A radio relay team of six Airmen had already established itself on the island and shared the same copse of trees.
“I was 22 years old. I was the kid on the island so it was a real experience,” Cunningham remembers. “I didn’t have a lot of sophistication psychologically, and that was a real psychological test for human beings, to be going like that.”
He was an Airman 2nd Class, a two-striper, with just over a year of service in the Air Force and some college education. His sergeants had seen combat during World War II and were wise to what the isolated team would endure. Their ingenuity, humor and direct leadership kept young Cunningham and the others on the island from mentally cracking.
To keep a low profile, the Airmen were ordered to stow their uniforms and wear civilian shorts and sneakers, sandals and cowboy hats instead.
The men also kept their pistols and M-1 Garand rifles ready, knowing that pirates and other possible threats roamed the waters surrounding them.
“The Chinese nationalists came by with a gun boat. A big, long vessel. Military. Chinese Navy,” Cunningham said. “And they had this big three-inch cannon on the front on a turret, and they swung that baby in toward our island, and they had some machine gun turrets, and pretty soon we saw boats come over the edge and some officers got on that and they came in to see who we were and what we were doing.”
The Airmen placed palm fronds along the beach to spell out U-S-A-F. The gunboat crew was satisfied and the standoff ended.
On another occasion, Okinawan fishermen came ashore to trade their fish for drinking water.
“They saw our 50-foot antenna that we put up for our radar set, our pulse radio, and so they were curious,” Cunningham said. “They came onboard and they were quite friendly.”
But visitors were the exception. Day after day, interaction was limited to within the tiny community of Airmen.
A feud between two staff sergeants took a bad turn when one threatened to kill the other.
Cunningham’s technical sergeant knew he had to step in and confront the enraged man. But first he warned Cunningham and the other radar operator that the situation could explode and that they might have to use their weapons.
“He said, ‘I’m calling him in here, I’m going to present this to him, our concern,'” Cunningham recalled. “‘If he gets up and breaks like I’ve seen a guy do it, he’ll run right over to the ground power tent where those guys live and he’ll just start shooting people.'”
Fortunately, there was no violence and the conflict was resolved.
“We had to stay up around the clock for a day or so to see what would happen in case we had to call for an SA-16 (amphibious flying boat) to come out with Air Police and come in and capture this guy, and we’re going to have to tie him up to a palm tree or something,” Cunningham said. “We didn’t know what was going to go on.”
The veteran sergeants kept up morale in other ways.
They improved the camp with funny signs, hand-made furniture and a wind-driven water pump. They cooked sea turtles for the men. And they improvised a way to make alcohol from coconut juice and cake mix.
Cunningham remembers the technical sergeant busy at his distillery ‘making moonshine.’ When the sergeant was asked why he was wearing his pistol, he replied that revenuers might come through and he couldn’t be interrupted.
That sense of humor was “what you really needed on a place like that to keep from cracking up,” Cunningham said.
For recreation, Cunningham would walk around the island and photograph the thousands of birds it attracted. He also tried diving off the reef once and became terrified by the absolute darkness.
“I opened up my eyes and it scared the bejeepers out of me,” he said. “It was total black. I couldn’t see anything. I got so danged scared, I came up and I got off and I got back to that reef and I never went back again.”
In the final month, he and the sergeant were the only humans left on the island. Two members of his team were evacuated. The radio relay team was relocated, taking their noisy generator with them. For the two men remaining, the silence at night was now ‘spooky’ – a lone coconut dropping from a tree was enough to send them scrambling for their weapons.
Cunningham’s experience on the reef forever changed how he relates to other people.
“I have an expression,” he said. “‘This guy sounds like a North Danger kind of guy,’ meaning somebody compatible, smart, you can get along with him, he’s got a good temper. Or this guy, I would not want to be with him on North Danger.”
Remember The First Gulf War? Persian Gulf War? Desert Storm and/or Desert Shield? They’re all the same war. Whatever we call it now, it was the war which expelled Iraqi troops from Kuwait, checked a decade of Saddam Hussein’s aggression toward his neighbors, and broke the looming spectre of Vietnam that hung over the U.S. military.
U.S. troops had seen smaller actions in before that time, but nothing like the scale and scope of a real “mother of all battles,” pitting Saddam’s Iraq vs. the United States and its UN-mandated coalition partners.
“Yours is a society which cannot accept 10,000 dead in one battle.” — Saddam Hussein, July 25, 1990.
“This will not stand, this aggression against Kuwait.” — President George H.W. Bush, Aug. 6, 1990.
The invasion of Kuwait is now just over 25 years old. It probably seemed like a quick victory, one unlikely to have lasting effects in the annals of history, but little did we know it was just setting the stage for the region’s next 30 years. There was no way to predict this war would even happen. In 1990, President Bush (41) was unable to shake off the “wimp” moniker bestowed on him by Newsweek in 1987.
In the post-9/11 world, the events leading up to and after the conflict came to lasting importance. Today, U.S. troops have come and gone, come and gone, come and gone from Iraq. The country has become America’s enduring sidepiece. Then Operations Northern Watch and Southern Watch gave way to Operation Iraqi Freedom and with it Bayonet Lightning, Red Dawn and countless others who themselves gave way to Operation Inherent Resolve. There are troops in Iraq today who weren’t yet born when Saddam first captured the Kuwaiti oil fields, and Saddam himself didn’t live to see this day.
Here are 21 facts about your daddy’s Iraq War.
1. The Iran-Iraq War led to Iraq invading Kuwait.
Iraq owed $80 million in foreign debt from its 1980-1988 war with Iran. Saddam Hussein demanded Saudi Arabia and Kuwait forgive $30 billion in Iraqi debt, which he saw a result of protecting Kuwait from Shia Iranian forces for eight years. He then accused Kuwait of stealing Iraqi oil through slant drilling.
Since Iraq’s economy depended on oil sales, Saddam hoped to repay its debts by raising the price of oil through OPEC oil production cuts, but instead, Kuwait increased production and repeatedly produced more than its quota, lowering prices in an attempt to leverage a better resolution of its border dispute with Iraq.
2. In 1991, Iraq had the fifth largest army in the world.
It’s true, Iraq’s armed forces boasted more than a million men in uniform in 1991, but only a third of those were skilled professional fighting forces. Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait with 120,000 of these and 2,000 tanks. After the Gulf War started, he concluded Iraq’s peace with Iran and raised his occupying force levels to 300,000. Iraq conscripted three fourths of men between ages 15 and 49. Even so, Iraq’s Air Force was large but weak and its Navy was “virtually nonexistent.”
3. Saddam thought the United States gave him the okay to invade Kuwait.
President Bush’s Ambassador to Iraq was April Glaspie, who, in a meeting with the Iraqi dictator, stressed to him that the U.S. did not want a trade war with Iraq. Saddam reiterated his commitment to peace in the region, so long as the Kuwaitis agree to meet OPEC production standards. Ambassador Glaspie told Saddam:
“But we have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait. I was in the American Embassy in Kuwait during the late 1960s. The instruction we had during this period was that we should express no opinion on this issue and that the issue is not associated with America. James Baker has directed our official spokesmen to emphasize this instruction.”
When nothing changed in Kuwait and Egyptian diplomacy failed, Saddam began the invasion. Saddam, frequently emphasizing a desire for U.S. friendship, was surprised to find his actions condemned by President Bush. When asked later why she said that to Saddam, Glaspie said: “We had no idea he would go that far.”
4. Saddam thought Arab states would be okay with Iraq annexing Kuwait.
The invasion happened during the first Palestinian Intifada, which enjoyed wide Arab support. As Palestinians tried to shake off Israeli occupation, Saddam tried to appeal to pan-Arab nationalism by being the strongman who would stand up to the West and Israel. He reasoned that the British illegally cut Kuwait out of greater Iraq in the 19th century and he was trying to right a Western wrong. The Arab League was not okay with this.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak tried to negotiate a treaty to avert a war, but Saddam walked out after two hours. His forces invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990. Two-thirds of the Arab League states joined the UN in a resolution condemning the invasion as King Fahd of Saudi Arabia and Kuwaiti leaders asked NATO for help. Iraq annexed Kuwait as its 19th province with Ali Hassan al-Majid (aka “Chemical Ali) as governor.
5. Iraq rolled over Kuwait in two days.
Unlike the Iran-Iraq War (which went on for eight years), Iraq’s Elite Republican Guard (with names which sound like they were made up by an American teenager, like the 1st Hammurabi Armored Division or the 4th Nebuchadnezzar Motorized Infantry Division) swiftly defeated Kuwaiti forces, reaching Kuwait City in an hour.
They either overran Kuwaitis on the ground or forced them (like 80% of the Kuwaiti Air Force) into neighboring Saudi Arabia or the island of Bahrain. Kuwait had not mobilized for war despite Saddam’s constant threats.
Whenever possible, Kuwaitis resisted fiercely, even establishing an underground resistance movement, though it was largely untrained and incapable. In trying to capture Kuwait’s Emir, Iraqis assaulted Dasman Palace even though the Emir had already left. The Emir’s brother was killed after leading a 12-hour defense of the palace, outnumbered by an entire Iraqi division. His body was placed in front of a tank and run over.
6. Iraq occupied Kuwait between August 1990 and January 1991 — and it was brutal.
In that time, the Iraqi forces committed at least sixteen crimes against the Laws of Armed Conflict as outlined in the Geneva and Hague Conventions. Those crimes include running of at least two dozen torture sites in Kuwait City alone, torturing civilians to the point of death and disfigurement. Kuwaiti women were taken hostage and raped repeatedly. Iraqi occupation forces killed at least 1,082 Kuwaiti civilian noncombatants, including women, children, and the mentally handicapped. Then they rigged the oil wells to explode if they were attacked.
Coalition Forces didn’t begin to expel Iraqis from Kuwait until January 1991, after the UN-mandated January 15th withdrawal deadline. Once Coalition forces and Iraqi forces met in the field, the Iraqis committed more war crimes. Among them, they pretended to surrender to U.S. Marines, then opened fire on them. Iraqis would disguise themselves as civilians and then ambush Coalition forces. Iraqi troops also tortured prisoners of war.
7. The U.S. could not have prevented Iraq from invading Saudi Arabia.
Shortly after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the UN passed resolutions condemning it, calling for the removal of Iraqi troops, and the nullification of Iraq’s annexation. Desert Shield began as the U.S. and the Coalition took six months building up air and naval forces in the region, enforcing the UN blockade of Iraq and U.S.-imposed sanctions. Until the buildup, however, Iraqi forces would have easily overwhelmed the Saudi defenses. Why Saddam didn’t immediately press his advantage is unknown.
Iraqi forces invaded Saudi Arabia at the January 1991 Battle of Khafji, capturing the city on the night of 29 January. By this time, however, it was far too late. Coalition forces had more than enough troops and hardware to repel the Iraqis. The attacks were fought off by U.S. Marines, Army Rangers, and Coalition aircraft and the city was soon recaptured by Saudi and Qatari forces, backed by U.S. airpower.
8. The Coalition built fake bases and units to dupe Iraqis into defending the wrong area.
The coalition used deception cells to create the impression that they were going to attack near the Kuwaiti “boot heel,” as opposed to the strategy actually implemented. The Army set up FOB Weasel near the opposite end of the Kuwaiti border, which was a network of fake camps manned only by several dozen soldiers. With computer-controlled radios, messages were passed between fictitious headquarters sections. Smoke generators and loudspeakers playing prerecorded tank and truck noises were used, along with inflatable Humvees and helicopters.
9. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf commanded a force larger and more complex than the D-Day invasion in WWII and didn’t want a ground war.
“Stormin’ Norman,” as he came to be known, was a highly-decorated and respected Vietnam War veteran. He commanded a Coalition of 670,000 personnel from 28 countries, along with combined Naval and Air Forces, with 425,000 troops from the United States. According to his memoirs, he implemented his operational plan to defend Saudi Arabia and expel Iraq from Kuwait using Gen. Colin Powell’s (then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) doctrine of overwhelming force and incorporated Montgomery’s desert armor tactics from the second battle of El-Alamein in World War II, all in an effort to minimize casualties on both sides.
“I hate war. Absolutely, I hate war,” he once said. “When the war started, we were hoping that they’d come to their senses and stop right then,” he said. “After 38 days, we got to a point where we could launch the ground war and, by that time, they hadn’t withdrawn.” Once begun, the ground war lasted only 100 hours before Iraq capitulated.
10. Desert Storm was a relatively cheap war.
Though the U.S. was the primary supplier, 39 countries contributed men and/or materiel to the Coalition in some significant way. Yeah, that’s Afghanistan in blue down there.
The U.S. Department of Defense has estimated the cost of the Gulf War at $61 billion. Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states covered $36 billion while Germany and Japan covered $16 billion. Still, as a percent of Gross Domestic Product (0.3%), Desert Storm was the cheapest war fought in U.S. history. The greater cost of the war to the region was likely more than $676 billion.
11. Saddam Hussein declared a jihad against the U.S.-led coalition.
Saddam began to convey a more Islamic, religious appearance in Iraqi media, showing himself praying at mosques and supporting the Palestinian cause, hoping to reframe the war as a struggle against Western imperialism and Israeli scheming.
The plan didn’t work. Sheik Abdul-Aziz Bin Baz, the Saudis’ leading interpreter of Islamic law, called Saddam Hussein the “enemy of God.”
12. Desert Storm helped secure a Bill Clinton presidency.
The Iraqi invasion already caused the price of oil to more than double, which led to a worldwide recession in the 1990s and the defeat of George H.W. Bush at the hands of Bill Clinton in the 1992 presidential election, despite being a popular, successful wartime President. Bill Clinton’s election team famously coined the term “It’s the economy, stupid” as their campaign mantra.
13. Iraq used oil as a weapon.
Smoke plumes from burning oil fields were intended to disrupt coalition aircraft and the heat from fires was expected to slow the advance of coalition troops. Iraqi combat engineers dug trenches filled with oil and ignited them to slow Coalition advances and spilled oil into the Persian Gulf in an effort to keep U.S. Marines from making an amphibious landing. Estimates of Iraqi oil spilled into the Gulf range from 4 to 11 million barrels, several time the size of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, and was never cleaned up on Saudi Arabian shores. The 610 oil fires set by Iraq destroyed 85% of Kuwaiti oil wells. The total amount of oil burned is an estimated 1 billion barrels, worth $2.8 billion.
The oil fires took down a Royal Saudi Air Force (RSAF) C-130, killing 92 Senegalese soldiers and the 6 Saudi crew members. They allowed Iraqi Republican Guard units to get the jump on Americans at the Battle of Phase Line Bullet, one of the few Iraqi victories of the war.
14. Israel had the third largest casualty count, despite not being in the war.
Iraq fired Scud missiles at Israel in an attempt to draw the country into the conflict, a move that would force many Arab states in the Coalition to choose between withdrawing or fighting alongside Israel, neither of which were appealing to the Arabs. In response, the U.S. and Netherlands deployed Patriot Missile Battalions to Israel and Turkey to keep Israel from retaliating (The Gulf War marked the first mid-air missile-to-missile interception).
Israelis in their home in Tel Aviv. Many feared Iraqi chemical attacks would come with the Scuds.
Seventy-four Israelis died as Iraq fired Scud missiles toward Tel Aviv. Many hit the Tel Aviv neighborhood of Ramat Gan which was, oddly enough, a neighborhood of Iraqi expatriates. Strangely, only three Israelis died from the missiles — the rest died of heart attacks or similar ailments as a result of the bombing. Iraq launched some 88 Scud missiles toward Israel and Saudi Arabia over the course of the war.
15. The Air War was one of the most massive, effective air campaigns ever.
The Iraqi Air Force was almost completely annihilated, and was never fully effective. The Coalition massed more than 3,000 airplanes leading up to the January 15th withdrawal deadline. It was the largest airlift effort in history, surpassing even the Berlin Airlift. The U.S. Air Force launched more than 100,000 sorties (air missions) starting on Jan. 17th, 1991 and dropped more than 88,500 tons of bombs.
Iraqis lost 38 MiGs to Coalition air forces, while the rest fled to Iran rather than be shot down. There they were captured and held for years and Iran kept the planes. Coalition laser-guided “smart bombs” still caused hundreds of civilian casualties, even hitting a civilian air raid shelter, then hitting the civilian al-Fallujah neighborhood in Baghdad. When relatives and first responders rushed to the area in the wake of the bombing, they were bombed too.
16. One American pilot was believed missing in action for 18 years after the war.
Coalition forces captured some 70,000 Iraqis throughout the course of the war. At the end of the war Iraq was known to have held a total of 26 allied prisoners: 22 Americans, two Britons, an Italian and a Kuwaiti. Iraq also is believed to have abducted 30-40,000 Kuwaiti civilians. According to Marine Col. Jim Acree, the Iraqis followed the Geneva Convention “for all of 20 minutes.” American POWs were tortured, beaten, and starved. Many of these POWs forcefully appeared in Iraqi Propaganda.
For years afterward, U.S. Navy Lt. Col. Scott Speicher remained missing in action after his FA-18 Hornet was shot down over Iraq, and his flight suit was found near the crash site. Speicher’s remains were found in 2009, and returned home.
“Our Navy will never give up looking for a shipmate, regardless of how long or how difficult that search may be,” said Adm. Gary Roughead, chief of naval operations, in a statement at the time. “We owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Captain Speicher and his family for the sacrifice they have made for our nation and the example of strength they have set for all of us.”
17. President Bush didn’t press on to Baghdad to abide by the UN Mandate.
President Bush only wanted to do what the UN Security Council authorized. Coalition forces expelled the Iraqi Army from Kuwait by February 27th and President Bush halted all offensive operations. This would be controversial until his son George W. Bush’s presidency, when we learned to respect our elders.
“Had we taken all of Iraq,” Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf wrote in his memoirs, “we would have been like a dinosaur in the tar pit — we would still be there, and we, not the United Nations, would be bearing the costs of that occupation.” In 2007, Colin Powell remarked, “In recent months, nobody’s been asking me about why we didn’t go to Baghdad. Pretty good idea now why Baghdad should always be looked at with some reservations.”
18. More Americans died from HIV infection in 1991 than in Operation Desert Storm.
An estimated 100,000 Iraqi soldiers were killed in the conflict, while the United States had only 383 fatalities in the region. 1991 was the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, as infection rates increased 15.3% over the previous year. HIV/AIDS was the ninth highest cause of death in the U.S. that year, killing 29,850 Americans. The number of infected and dead from HIV/AIDS would double by 1993.
19. The First Gulf War brought about the rise of cable news, and thus, cable television.
Media Coverage was very restricted as Coalition commanders feared the horrors of war would lead to another Vietnam syndrome, where the imagery turns the public against war in general. The Pentagon gave regular briefings but few journalists were allowed to visit the front. At the same time, satellite technology allowed for live video of missiles firing off of aircraft carriers and airstrikes on Iraqi targets while night vision camera technology gave the war a futuristic, almost video game like feel. So much so, it came to be dubbed “The Nintendo War.”
Oil covered birds, Coalition war briefings, videos of rockets being shot down chimneys and immediate responses from Kuwaiti and Saudi civilians all made for great television imagery. CNN’s live reporting from a hotel in downtown Baghdad became the main driver of its viewership, as it was the only network broadcasting the war 24 hours a day. Since CNN was only available through cable, subscriptions spiked and pay TV became a permanent facet of American life, the first step in ending the dominance of the “Big Three” networks, ABC, NBC, and CBS.
20. The U.S. encouraged uprisings against Saddam’s regime.
President Bush gave speeches hinting the U.S. would support factions fighting against the Iraqi Ba’athist regime. A Shia rebellion began in Southern Iraq in 1991, but was not supported militarily by the U.S. or Coalition forces — even allowing pro-regime helicopters to brutally suppress the rebellion — despite the Southern No-Fly Zone. In the North, Kurdish fighters staged an uprising of their own, but since no U.S. help was forthcoming, Iraqi generals stayed loyal and massacred the Kurds.
21. Saddam Hussein publicly apologized for the Invasion of Kuwait
Sort of. The Iraqi information minister, Mohammad Said al-Sahhaf (who became known as “Comical Ali” or “Baghdad Bob” during the 2003 Invasion of Iraq), who also announced in 2003 that there were no U.S. troops in Baghdad as U.S. troops were rapidly capturing most of the city, read a statement:
“We apologize for what happened to you in the past,” he read for the Iraqi dictator. “The devoted and the holy warriors in Kuwait met with Iraqi counterparts” under their common creator against the “infidel armies” of “London, Washington and the Zionist entity.”
If we’ve learned anything, it’s to be careful about who you call a “wimp.”
The Aztec military lacked many of the commodities that European ones had for centuries like pack animals and dedicated wagon trains. But thanks to Spartan-like discipline and focused ferocity, the Aztecs were able to effectively defend and expand their empire generation after generation for centuries. Here’s how one climbed from porter, the starting rank, to senior-most warrior.
New soldiers in the Aztec ranks worked as porters, standing in for the pack animals common in Europe. While this may seem demeaning by today’s standards, the tough terrain and vegetation of the jungle made it challenging—if not impossible—to move large amounts of men and supplies without strong backs.
And, after serving as a porter to a more senior soldier or on the supply lines, they would advance to the novice rank and began fighting in support roles or apprenticed on the battlefield to a mentor. It was during this time that they would learn some maneuvers and how to pursue a fleeing enemy.
To advance further, it was necessary to begin capturing enemy troops. Quality and quantity counted, with enemy nobles being most prized.
As the soldier captured more and more enemy troops, he would get improved uniforms and weapons, eventually becoming a “Teacher of Youths” and then a “Ruler of Youths.” Yes, do well enough in the army, and you were allowed to become a teacher like Rico in Starship Troopers.
If the soldier took a very important prisoner from an enemy force, they could now advance to captain.
This was the highest a commoner could climb unless they were granted honorary nobility due to an accomplishment in battle. Nobles, including honorary nobles, could be inducted into the Eagle and Jaguar fraternities. These warriors had special privileges and fine weapons.
Continuing to succeed would allow the soldier to climb to the Otomi, skilled and elite troops who wore special banners to symbolize their heroism. The only promotion beyond this was to “shorn one,” the Cuahchiqueh. By this point, they were excluded from teaching at schools because their skills on the battlefield were simply too valuable.
Above all of these warriors were the king and his war council. The Masters of the House of Darts and the House of Darkness and the Cutter of Men were typically members of the royal family.
So, if you have a time machine and want to become a senior member of the Aztec army, remember to get adopted by the king or bring good weapons back with you, because you’ll need to kidnap a lot of prestigious enemies in order to climb the ranks.
Congressional Republicans and Democrats have reached initial agreement on the biggest expansion of college aid for military veterans in a decade, removing a 15-year time limit to tap into benefits and boosting money for thousands in the National Guard and Reserve.
The deal being announced early July 13 is a sweeping effort to fill coverage gaps in the post-9/11 GI Bill amid a rapidly changing job market. Building on major legislation passed in 2008 that guaranteed a full-ride scholarship to any in-state public university — or the cash amount for private college students similar to the value of a scholarship at a state college — the bill gives veterans added flexibility to enroll in college later in life. Veterans would get additional payments if they complete science, technology, and engineering courses.
The Associated Press obtained details of the agreement in advance of a formal bill introduction July 13.
For a student attending a private university, the additional benefits to members of the Guard and Reserve could mean $2,300 a year more in tuition than they are receiving now, plus a bigger housing allowance.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R- Calif., praised the bill as a major effort to modernize the GI Bill, better positioning veterans for jobs after their service in a technologically sophisticated US military.
“It’s really about training the workforce in a post-9/11 GI Bill world,” he told The Associated Press. “Veterans are being locked out of a whole new economy.”
House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Phil Roe, the bill’s lead sponsor, said he would schedule a committee vote next week. Pledging more VA reforms to come, McCarthy said the full House will act quickly, describing the bill as just the “first phase to get the whole VA system working again.”
“We’ll move it out this month,” McCarthy said.
Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia, chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said he would introduce a companion bill, while Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, the panel’s senior Democrat, said he was “encouraged” by the bipartisan plan. Veterans’ issues have been one of the few areas on which Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill have found some common ground, as they remain sharply divided on health care, tax reform, and other issues.
The education benefits would take effect for enlistees who begin using their GI Bill money next year.
Kristofer Goldsmith, 31, says he believes it would benefit many former service members who, like himself, aren’t ready to immediately enroll in college after military service. Goldsmith served in the US Army as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2005, reaching the rank of sergeant, but returned home to constant nightmares and other PTSD symptoms. He was kicked out of the military with a general discharge after a suicide attempt, barring him from receiving GI benefits.
Now an assistant director for policy at Vietnam Veterans of America, Goldsmith advocates for veterans with PTSD and is appealing his discharge status. He’s heading to Columbia University in the fall.
“I feel extremely lucky I have found my passion in veterans’ advocacy,” Goldsmith said. “But I’ve taken out tens of thousands of dollars to go to school. GI benefits are something service members earn while they serve. They shouldn’t lose it just because they aren’t transitioning back the way the government wants.”
According to Student Veterans of America, only about half of the 200,000 service members who leave the military each year go on to enroll in a college, while surveys indicate that veterans often outperform peers in the classroom. The bill is backed by the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, which says hundreds of thousands of former service members stand to gain from the new array of benefits.
“This is going to be a big win,” said Patrick Murray, associate director at VFW.
The legislation combines 18 separate House bills, also providing full GI Bill eligibility to Purple Heart recipients. Previously, those individuals had to serve at least three years. The bill also would restore benefits if a college closed in the middle of the semester, a protection added when thousands of veterans were hurt by the collapse of for-profit college giant ITT Tech.
The bill hasn’t been free of controversy.
A draft plan circulated by Roe’s committee in April drew fire after it initially proposed paying for the $3 billion cost of upgraded benefits over 10 years by reducing service members’ monthly pay by $100 per month. Veterans’ groups sharply criticized that plan as an unfair “tax on troops,” noting that Army privates typically earn less than $1,500 per month.
“The GI Bill is a cost of war, and Congress needs to pay for it as long as we are at war,” said Paul Rieckhoff, IAVA’s founder and CEO.
The latest proposal would be paid for by bringing living stipend payments under the GI Bill down to a similar level as that received by an active-duty member, whose payments were reduced in 2014 by 1 percent a year for five years.
Total government spending on the GI Bill is expected to be more than $100 billion over 10 years.
Rep. Tim Walz, the senior Democrat on the House Veterans Affairs Committee and a bill co-sponsor, praised the plan, saying it will “improve the lives of future generations of veterans … without asking our troops or American taxpayers to pay more.”
Some of the lore around “Old Blood n’ Guts” Patton is common knowledge: He carried distinctive ivory-handled revolvers, he believed in reincarnation, and he infamously slapped two of his soldiers who were suffering from “battle fatigue.” But here are a few things you might not have known about “Old Blood n’ Guts.”
1. He was a terrible student at West Point
The man who would become one of America’s greatest fighting generals struggled during his first year at the U.S. Military Academy. He had to repeat his plebe year because he failed mathematics. He worked with a tutor for the rest of his time there, graduating 46th in a class of 103.
2. He predicted the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor
Patton served in Hawaii before World War II as the G-2 (intelligence) on the General Staff. He watched the rise of Japanese militancy in the Pacific, especially their aggression against the Chinese. In 1935, he wrote a paper called “Surprise” that predicted the Japanese attack on the U.S. islands with what one biographer called “chilling accuracy.”
3. He was an Olympic athlete
The first-ever modern pentathlon was held at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. The event is comprised of fencing, shooting, swimming, riding, and cross-country running. Patton placed fifth in the competition and was the only non-Swede to place.
4. He designed the sword his cavalry troops would use
After the Olympics, he studied fencing in France at the French Cavalry School near Saumur. Based on his training there, he not only redesigned the saber fighting style for the U.S. Army, he also designed a new sword to fit the doctrine. His new sword was built for thrusting over slashing attacks and was designated the Model 1913 Cavalry Saber.
5. He awarded a chaplain a Bronze Star for composing a prayer
During the Battle of the Bulge, Patton’s Third Army was tasked to relieve the 101st Airborne, who were surrounded in Bastogne. He asked chaplain James Hugh O’Neill to compose a prayer for good weather that would help the Third Army get to Bastogne and to air cover while en route. Here’s the prayer:
“Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies, and establish Thy justice among men and nations. Amen.”
When the weather did clear, Patton pinned the Bronze Star on O’Neill personally.
6. He was sickened by the sight of a concentration camp
The Ohrdruf concentration camp was one in the string of Buchenwald camps. It was also the first such camp liberated by U.S. troops, on April 4, 1945. Eight days later, Eisenhower toured the camp with Patton and General Omar Bradley. Ike wrote in his diary:
The visual evidence and the verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering as to leave me a bit sick. In one room, where they were piled up twenty or thirty naked men, killed by starvation, George Patton would not even enter. He said that he would get sick if he did so.
Patton described it as “one of the most appalling sights that I have ever seen.”
7. He was the first general to integrate his riflemen
The general’s main source of inspiration for his men came from his ability to address them in speech. He demanded a lot from his soldiers, no matter what color they were. Addressing on tank battalion he said the following:
“Men, you are the first Negro tankers ever to fight in the American Army. I would never have asked for you if you weren’t good. I have nothing but the best in my army. I don’t care what color you are, so long as you go up there and kill those Kraut sonsabitches! Everyone has their eyes on you and is expecting great things from you. Most of all, your race is looking forward to you. Don’t let them down and, damn you, don’t let me down!”
8. He was No. 3 when Eisenhower ranked his generals
To Ike, Bradley was a planner of the success in Europe, Patton simply executed that plan.
9. The Germans admired him more than the British
The nicest thing most generals from Britain had to say about Patton was that he was good for operations requiring lighting thrusts but at a loss in any operation requiring skill and judgment.
Conversely, the German High Command (as well as the Free French) thought Patton one of the ablest generals of the American Army. German Generals Erwin Rommel, Albert Kesselring, and Alfred Jodl are all known to have remarked to other on Patton’s brilliance on the battlefield.
In another historic change for the military, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Thursday lifted the ban on transgender persons serving openly in the ranks, calling the move “the right thing to do” both practically and as a matter of principle.
Starting immediately, “Otherwise qualified service members can no longer be involuntarily separated, discharged, or denied re-enlistment or continuation of service just for being transgender,” he said at a Pentagon news conference. “Our military, and the nation it defends, will be stronger” as a result, he said.
The secretary said he was acting to ensure that the military of the future had access to the widest talent pool. “We don’t want barriers unrelated to a person’s qualification to serve preventing us from recruiting or retaining the soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine who can best accomplish the mission,” he said.
Another reason for lifting the ban was to end discrimination against those who are transgender and currently serving, Carter said.
He cited Rand Corp. statistics estimating that about 2,500 people out of approximately 1.3 million active-duty service members and about 1,500 out of about 825,000 reserve service members are transgender. The upper range estimates put the number of transgender persons on active duty at 7,000 and at 4,000 in the reserves, he said.
Most importantly, allowing transgender persons to serve openly was a matter of fairness and living up to the American principles of equal treatment and opportunity under the law, Carter said.
“Americans who want to serve and can meet our standards should be afforded the opportunity to compete to do so,” he said.
Carter quoted Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, who said, “The United States Army is open to all Americans who meet the standard, regardless of who they are. Embedded within our Constitution is that very principle, that all Americans are free and equal.”
The lifting of the transgender ban was the latest in a series of rapid and wide-reaching social and cultural changes in the military going back to the 2011 action to end the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy against gays serving openly in the military and continuing through Carter’s move last January to lift restrictions on women serving in combat.
Critics have scorned the changes as “social engineering” that would impact readiness and the ability to fight, and the transitions have been adopted reluctantly by many in the upper ranks.
Significantly, Carter was standing alone at the podium when he made the transgender announcement. In matters of major policy statements, the defense secretary is usually joined by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, but Gen. Joseph Dunford was absent.
Dunford was also absent when Carter announced that he was opening combat military occupational specialties to women. As commandant, Dunford had urged closing some combat positions in the Marine Corps to women.
When asked about Dunford’s absence, Carter did not respond directly.
“This is my decision,” he said.
Carter said the decision was supported by the “senior leadership,” but did not say whether Dunford was included in the senior leadership.
Criticism of Carter’s action from Capitol Hill was immediate. Rep. Mac Thornberry, a Texas Republican and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, called the announcement as “the latest example of the Pentagon and the President prioritizing politics over policy.”
“Our military readiness — and hence, our national security — is dependent on our troops being medically ready and deployable,” Thornberry said. “The administration seems unwilling or unable to assure the Congress and the American people that transgender individuals will meet these individual readiness requirements at a time when our armed forces are deployed around the world.”
However, Carter had the authority to change the policy on his own, and it appeared that Congress could do little to block him. Thornberry was vague on whether Congress might seek to act. His statement said that “Congress would examine legislative options to address any readiness issues that might be associated with the new policy.”
OutServe-Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, or SLDN, a group supporting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender military community, praised the lifting of the ban. “Transgender service members have been awaiting this announcement for months and years. It has been long overdue,” said Matt Thorn, executing director of the group.
Thorn said Carter “has given a breath of relief and overdue respect to transgender service members who have been and are currently serving our country with undeniable professionalism, the utmost respect and illustrious courage, with the caveat to do so silently. Today, we mark history, once again, by ending the need to serve in silence.”
Carter had made his position on the transgender ban clear last July, when he called the ban “outdated” and ordered a study on lifting it.
“I directed the working group to start with the presumption that transgender persons can serve openly without adverse impact on military effectiveness and readiness, unless and except where objective, practical impediments are identified,” he said.
The study looked at other militaries that already allow transgender service members to serve openly. Currently, about 18 militaries allow transgender service, including those of Britain, Israel, Australia, Brazil and Chile.
Based on the analysis of other militaries, Rand concluded that there would be “minimal readiness impacts from allowing transgender service members to serve openly,” Carter said. Rand also estimated that health care costs would represent “an exceedingly small proportion” of the department’s overall health care expenditures, he said.
The Pentagon signaled it plans to pay for costs associated with transgender health care.
“Medically necessary” gender reassignment surgery and medications will also be covered beginning in about 90 days, Carter said.
“Our doctors will give them medically necessary procedures as determined by the medical professions,” he said. “In no later than 90 days, the DoD will issue a commanders’ guidebook for leading transgender troops, as well as medical guidance to military doctors for transgender-related care.”
The success of changing the policy on transgender service will be determined by how the changes are put in place, said Carter, who set out a year-long course of gradual implementation.
Within three months, the department will issue a commanders’ guidebook on how to deal with currently-serving transgender service members, along with guidance to doctors for providing transition-related care if required to currently-serving transgender service members, Carter said. Also within that time period, service members will be able to initiate the process for officially changing their gender in personnel management systems, he said.
Following the guidance period, the focus will turn to training the entire force on the new rules — “from commanders, to medical personnel, to the operating force and recruiters,” Carter said.
By the one-year mark, all service branches will begin allowing transgender individuals to join the armed forces, assuming they meet accession standards. Also, an otherwise-qualified individual’s gender identity will not be considered a bar to admission to a military service academy, or participation in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps or any other accession program if the individual meets the new criteria.
Immediately, however, transgender soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen will no longer have to live with the possibility of being booted from the service or denied re-enlistment solely because they are transgender, Carter said. “Service members currently on duty will be able to serve openly,” he said.
On the subject of “gender re-assignment” surgery, Carter said the Pentagon will not pay for recruits to have it. “Our initial accession policy will require an individual to have completed any medical treatment that their doctor has determined is necessary in connection with their gender transition and to have been stable in their identified gender for 18 months, as certified by their doctor, before they can enter the military,” said.
The decision on whether to allow those already in the ranks to have gender re-assignment surgery paid for by DoD would be up to the individual’s military doctor, Carter said. “The medical standards don’t change,” Carter said, and all service members will be entitled to “all the medical care that doctors deem necessary.”
“Consider that, first of all, you are a United States Marine. That is the beginning,” Joseph Owen said just days before his death in August 2015.
He said it as if he were addressing all Marines.
“You are something beyond ordinary people. Now you want to take a step up from there. If you’re not the best, you’re gonna be. If you’re not trying to be the best the Corps has, you’re not worth a sh*t. Why are you here?”
Owen commanded a mortar platoon as a 2nd lieutenant in Baker Company, 1-7 Marines during the Korean War. Owen enlisted during World War II but saw the bulk of his service in Korea. As an officer, he was charged with turning an undisciplined group of reservist mortarmen into a force to confront the enemy.
“You always have to perform to your limit,” he said. “Myself and a fellow officer, we used to sit around and talk about leadership all the time. Combat leadership doesn’t mean a goddamn thing unless you have Marines that will continue the fight no matter what.”
Becoming an officer changed his world.
“I’m not bragging, I’m just saying the facts: two Navy Crosses and a Silver Star – we know what the hell we’re talking about,” he said.
1. His most vivid memories:
“The North Koreans had much more initiative,” he said. “They would come on you tenaciously and keep on the attack until you killed them. And in defensive positions, they were aggressive and used offensive tactics. Even pinned down they would get out and come at you. I had great respect for them. They fought with their brains individually. The Chinese were only tenacious because there was no going back.”
“Some of the Chinese front line soldiers didn’t even have weapons, they had stakes. They would try to get in close and kill you with that. The ones who came after them would try to pick up the burp guns of the first wave. If they got killed the third wave would come and pick up the weapons.”
“The Chinese were wearing sneakers in 30-below-zero temperatures,” he remembered. “Sometimes we came up on them, and some of them would still be in position, frozen solid. They’d put their hands up to surrender. We would take them, pull them out, and find they were just stumbling around on frozen feet.”
2. On racial integration of the military:
“Two Southerners came to request to be in my platoon when they received a black squad leader, a Sgt. Long. When Sgt. Long was killed during a night fight with the Chinese, those two Marines requested to carry Long’s body, because they wanted to pay proper respect to ‘the best damn squad leader in the Corps.’ When the fighting started, everyone was a Marine.”
3. His take on modern American warfare:
“Today’s troops cannot fight the way I know how to fight. You have to take the battle to the enemy and kill them. These days you have to go through rules of engagement, which ties the hands of soldiers behind their back. You have to keep on going and do not stop. Keep going and kill those bastards. No pity, no mercy, just kill them. As many as you can.”
4. On North Korea today:
“We fought them to a defeat and now they have risen back and are – in effect – giving us the finger and getting away with it. What are we gonna do? We shouldn’t let that little son of a bitch play around with atomic weapons. That pisses me off.”
5. On harboring ill will toward an enemy:
“Hell no. They were fighting under the same orders I had. They were out to kill me, as I was out to kill them. Hell no. I respect them. I’d love to sit down with one of them and bullshit with them about what they were doing at such and such a time, especially if they were in the same battle as I was.”
6. Why he wrote a book:
“I had been thinking for a long time something should be done to honor the Marines I fought with,” Owen said. “I knew if I wrote about Baker Company it would also cover Able Company. We were all the same, formed up by the numbers, and we bonded very quickly. If I said Baker was the best, they’d say ‘F– you, we’re the best.’ We were the same. So I quit my business and wrote the book. This was a story that needed to be told.”
“What I wrote about getting to Fox Company after they were under fire for five nights… we came up to Fox Company’s positions. They had stacks of Chinese bodies set up as protective walls against enemy fire. They were using those walls to put down fire on the oncoming Chinese. When we came up on them, I was able to walk 50 yards on just Chinese bodies. There must have been hundreds of them thrown against Fox Company. This is the kind of thing I needed to write.”
7. On life after the Corps:
“Stay active, be proud of what you do. What I say about the pride of being a Marine. That’s all over the place — the rest of your life, make it a good one. Do good things for people to the best of your ability. I had a hell of a life, way beyond the Marine Corps. I look back at night before I go to sleep… I got millions of great, great memories. I remember everything. I think ‘son of a bitch… you were able to get away with that!’ ”
8. Advice for anyone, military or civilian:
“If you’ve never been scared sh*tless, what kind of life have you led?”
Iran’s navy has conducted a joint exercise with a Chinese fleet near the strategic Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf.
The official IRNA news agency said June 18th’s drill included an Iranian warship as well as two Chinese warships, a logistics ship, and a Chinese helicopter that arrived in Iran’s port of Bandar Abbas last week.
It said the scheduled exercise came before the departure of the Chinese fleet for Muscat, Oman. It did not provide further details.
The US Navy held a joint drill with Qatar in the Persian Gulf on June 17th.
US and Iranian warships have had a number of tense encounters in the Persian Gulf in recent years. Nearly a third of all oil traded by sea passes through the Strait of Hormuz.
For around 30 years, the food court at the center of the Pentagon’s courtyard was an easy source of mid-afternoon calories for the hungry planners of a potential World War III with the Eastern Bloc. There was just one problem, and it wasn’t the food.
It was said the Soviet Union had at least two nuclear missiles pointed at it at all times.
The hot dog stand, replaced in the early 2000s with another, presumably less hot dog-oriented food stand, was the center of life for a lot of the Cold War lunches had by the staff at the nation’s most important military building. It was said that the Soviet Union watched the comings and goings of top U.S. military brass in and out of the tiny structure in the middle of the courtyard every day.
They surmised it must be an important planning center or command and control bunker. So, obviously, when the war broke out, it would have to be one of the first things to go. Two ICBMs should take care of it.
And most of the DMV area.
“Rumor has it that during the Cold War the Russians never had any less than two missiles aimed at this hot dog stand,” Brett Eaton, an information and communications officer for Washington Headquarters Services, told DoD News. “They thought this was the Pentagon’s most top-secret meeting room, and the entire Pentagon was a large fortress built around this hot dog stand.”
No one in Russia has ever confirmed this rumor, but the stand still earned the moniker “Cafe Ground Zero.” In reality, substantiated or not, the hot dog stand was smack dab in the middle of the United States’ most important military building. Since the blast radius of the Soviet Union’s best and biggest nuclear missile was big enough to wipe out New York City along with parts of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, it stands to reason that destroying the hot dog stand at the center of the Pentagon would just be a win for clogged arteries.
Israel’s Arrow missile defense system managed to get its first kill. This particular kill is notable because it was a Syrian surface-to-air missile.
According to a report by FoxNews.com, Israeli jets had attacked a number of Syrian targets. After the successful operation, they were targeted by Syrian air-defense systems, including surface-to-air missiles.
Reportedly, at least one of the surface-to-air missiles was shot down by an Arrow. According to astronautix.com, the system designed to kill ballistic missiles, had its first test flight in 1990 and has hit targets as high as 60 miles up.
Army-Technology.com notes that the Israeli system has a range of up to 56 miles and a top speed of Mach 9. That is about three times the speed of the legendary SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance plane.
The surprise, of course, is that the Arrow proved capable of killing the unidentified surface-to-air missile the Syrians fired.
Surface-to-air missiles are much harder targets to hit than ballistic missiles because they will maneuver to target a fighter or other aircraft.
Furthermore, the SAM that was shot down is very likely to have been of Russian manufacture (DefenseNews.com reported the missile was a SA-5 Gammon, also known as the S-200).
Most of the missiles are from various production blocks of the Arrow 2, but this past January, Reuters reported that the first Arrow 3 battery had become operational.
While the Arrow 2 intercepts incoming warheads in the atmosphere, the Arrow 3 is capable of exoatmospheric intercepts. One battery has been built so far, and will supplement Israel’s Arrow 2 batteries. The Arrow 3’s range is up to 2,400 kilometers, according to CSIS.
Released in 2013, the Origin-12 comes standard with a five-round 12-gauge magazine or an optional 30-round drum.
The design of the Origin-12 is made to greatly reduce recoil. The barrel is placed lower than the chamber and butt stock.
“In-line shotguns, when you shoot them, they climb. Pure physics will tell you about this firearm,” Fostech Outdoors executive Judd Foster said at SHOT Show 2016. “When you shoot it, it takes recoil out of it, and it punches you on target.”
According to Fostech Outdoors, there will soon be conversion kits to allow 7.62 and 5.56mm fire coming in 2018. If you’re interested in having a forward grip, check out the Origin-12 SBV. It’s an arm braced, smooth bore, 12-gauge non-NFA Firearm.
“The Fostech Origin-12 is an awesome piece of hardware. As far as I know, its is the fastest cycling shotgun in the world, ” IV8888’s Eric said.
WRITER’S NOTE: I would like to personally thank you, the community, for bringing this beauty to my attention. The inspiration for this post goes to Marc Allen from this Facebook post. Thank you very much for your support. You rock!
The Korean War is strange anomaly in the history of American wars, especially of the 20th Century. So much consideration is reserved for wars and the people who fought them in today’s culture that it makes the term “the forgotten war” seem like an impossibility. But that’s what we face with Korean War veterans.
Theirs is a very insular generation of veterans. Those who don’t share an experience in World War II or Vietnam because they only fought in Korea, they can only find an ever-dwindling number of fellow Korean War veterans.
Because of this, they have a very detailed memory and analysis of not just their part in the war, but of the entire war itself, so conversations tend to be lively between them. And, if you have a question, you will find a thoughtful answer. They’ve discussed every aspect of the war quite a bit.
Some Korean War veterans, like the “Chosin Few” seen here, form alumni groups of single battles.
So it makes sense that whenever I talk to Korean War veterans, there’s one thing they all say they want to do: talk to veterans who were fighting on the other side of the fiercest battles. Whenever old adversaries get together, the talk generally comes to heal the emotional wounds of both parties, whether it’s between Americans and Germans, Japanese, or Vietnamese counterparts.
“They were fighting under the same orders I had,” Marine Corps veteran Joe Owen said when he told me about North Korean troops just days before his death in 2015. Owen was a lieutenant at the Chosin Reservoir. “They were out to kill me, as I was out to kill them… I respect them. I’d love to sit down with one of them and bullshit with them about what they were doing at such and such a time, especially if they were in the same battle as I was.”
But Korean War veterans will likely never get this experience.
North Korea is called the Hermit Kingdom for a reason. It is extremely difficult to get in as an outsider, especially as a U.S. military veteran. North Korea did not fare well during the Korean War. Despite its early success, the North was pretty much ravaged and bombed away for three years and today’s North Koreans remember the war very differently than the rest of the world. An American Korean War veteran visiting the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum in Pyongyang would either have to be extremely diplomatic or agree to a vow of silence as he walked through.
Chinese veterans of the war are a different matter. China is a much more open, and relatively progressive country. The Chinese People’s Volunteer Army sent upwards of a million Chinese to North Korea during the war, with many of the surviving veterans still alive, like Zhang Yuzeng. Zhang told Voice of America News that even though the two were allies, North Koreans generally acted independently and the two forces couldn’t understand each other.
“There were few [North Koreans],” he said. “[They were] badly equipped and were not as good at fighting…”The North Korean army would go first and we followed; we stopped where they stopped.”
To the Chinese fighters, they were protecting their country from American Imperialism, a protection they firmly believed was necessary. CNN interviewed a Chinese veteran of Korea at his retirement home in Henan Province. He proudly wears his Chinese Army dress uniform. He told CNN it was necessary to help the Korean people during the war.
“The people of Korea were suffering,” Duan said.”Seeing the people of Korea farming the land and being killed by enemy planes … what were they to do if they could not farm? The planes would just come and bomb them to death. We had to help protect the people of Korea.”
A United States Marine stands guard over captured North Koreans just after the Inchon Landing.
Zhang Kuiyuan joined the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army at age 18 and was sent to Korea. He drove a supply truck to the front lines and also mentioned the lack of cooperation. They were not even to speak to or form relationships with the locals.
“We didn’t have many contacts with the North Koreans unless we were cooperating in the same hills,” he said. Duan Keke remarked that North Korean people today probably have no idea what sacrifices were made by the Chinese fighting man on their behalf, since they were not allowed to communicate on a personal level. He laments that the Koreans only know what their government wants them to know.
What the Chinese and American Korean War veterans have in common is that their war, decades old, remains “forgotten” – especially by the youth of their respective countries.
“Young people? Of course they don’t know,” says You Jie Xiang, a former infantry soldier who was assigned to guard American POWs. “These wars took place decades ago. All the young people have no idea.”
Like Joe Owen, the salty former lieutenant who commanded Marines at the Chosin Reservoir, these Chinese veterans harbor no ill will toward their former adversaries. They call Americans a “peaceful people” who “did not want a war in Korea.”
“War is death,” the old Chinese vets agree, nodding to each other.